/ Technology

Would you buy a drone?

flying a drone

Drones are arguably one of the coolest, funkiest, trendiest (whatever the cool kids say) tech gadgets you can own in 2017, but do you trust them enough to buy one?

I’ve been spending a fair bit of time flying drones lately and, I have to admit, there’s a lot of fun to be had – from lifting the drone into the air and moving it around, to taking some sweeping shots of the great British countryside.

However, they’re also prone to bad press. Reports of near-misses with airplanes are enough to make you shudder. Plus, some people have understandable concerns about their privacy when they see a drone in the air – especially considering many are fitted with cameras.

But I don’t think this needs to be a reason not to buy one, or to not get excited about the technology. If drone pilots use their drones safely and responsibly I don’t think they can really cause any harm.

Drone code

To help people do this, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has published a drone code, with the key principles for safe flight.

These include some things that I think should be obvious, such as staying away from airports and airfields, and following the manufacturer instructions. But it also has some more specific details to help you stay within the confines of the law – such as keeping 50 metres away from people and property.

We explore these regulations – as well as considerations around privacy, what to do if you see someone using a drone incorrectly, and more in our guide on how to fly a drone safely.

Flying responsibly

The government has recently announced its plans to bring in drone registration, and a safety-awareness test for everyone who wants to fly one.

The hope is that these measures will encourage responsible flight, and improve accountability when someone uses their drone incorrectly.

The government is also looking into how best to embed electronic identification and tracking within the registration scheme so that drones can be identified when they’re in the air. This will also verify the pilots on the ground.

Safety features

Drones do have some pretty cool safety features that can help them (and you) stay out of trouble. There’s something called ‘return to home’ that means the drone will immediately find its way back to you if it gets lost, loses signal with a controller, or runs out of battery.

Some drones also have geofencing technology. This GPS-based technology is built into drones, and is designed to stop them from flying in prohibited zones.

Some drones are really easy to control and fly, which gave me confidence when I piloted them. Some, on the other hand, made me feel nothing short of nervous. If you want to know which drones aced our flight tests, take good photos and have decent battery life, check out our Best Buy drones.

Would you ever consider buying a drone? Do you think the current and proposed regulations go far enough, or would you prefer stricter rules?


Predictably not. Wrong age group, better things to do with the time available and no actual use for such a gadget. There’s a good chance that a bad landing will wreck a several hundred pound “toy” as would a tree or a power line (god forbid). Who can guarantee that the drone will not get within fifty metres of someone? The neighbour’s hot tub is not a place to film if you want to remain on good terms. Buzzing drones could be a noise nuisance too. Those who need to see things from the air to assess conditions will find a drone a very useful tool, for the rest of us, it’s a leisure thing. What ever turns you on…..

Perhaps Which? could also review Personal Surface to Drone Missiles so we can bring down an offending intruder?
Personally, I see little wrong in principle with drones; an extension to other radio controlled devices – planes and helicopters. Big boys toys for some, but with serious uses for others.

Once the novelty has worn off, what do you then do with a drone – unless you are a professional photographer perhaps.

I will have a gripe here ( πŸ™ ) I would like to have seen Which? do a test report on the unsafe Indesit tumble driers to help decide what the safety problem was, whether it was present when the product would have been tested for safety to the international standard, or whether it was due to a change in design since it was approved. They could have given one to BSI to do independent tests. Perhaps a better use of money and resources that would benefit more people than drones? πŸ™‚

I’m just waiting for the first terrorist incident involving a drone and a plane….
All very well to have regulations banning them near airports and over densely populated areas, but without foolproof transponders (that cannot be removed without destroying the drone) fitted to every drone, I believe that serious incidents will happen sooner or later, probably without identifying the perpetrators.
There have already been several reports of them being used to deliver mobile phones and drugs to prisons, proving (in my view) that enforcement of the regulations is nigh impossible.

Regulations, codes, safe use guidelines. As ever the people who would adhere to these are not the users we would need to be concerned about. I can see the value of drones to certain authorities and services but worry that so called leisure users are a risk to the rest of us. Already heard of children been hurt by unsafe adult users and children flying ‘toy’ drones!

michael says:
29 July 2017

We have already seen what a full size drone can do in a war zone. Do we need to witness a CATASTROPHIC event in this country before we completely put them back in the hands of military only. As they get bigger and more sophisticated, it’s only a matter of time. I just cannot see common sense prevailing.

Drones MUST be better controlled. A license should be required before purchasing. Stricter laws/ rules about their build and use are needed and with corresponding tough fines/punishments. Users should face a test of some sort. The CAA and other authorities must get off their ….. and get proper legislation in place before a serious accident with fatalities occurs.

I think that each drone should be fitted with a microchip and at the point of sale they should have to give their name and address so that if they cause any problems it is easy to track them down and hold them to account.

A useful tool if you have a use for it, but for enthusiasts, a drone is less benefit than a metal detector and has the added risk of damage and loss.

In the meantime, the NIMBYs and control freaks will have a ball indignantly demanding ‘big daddy’ protection.

More eye-opening Christmas or birthday present than the 48 piece briefcase tool kit for adult boys but will get even less use. A fad that will die before demand grows to reduce purchase cost and all those collecting dust in attics will end up on Ebay.

So if you have a use for one, hold your horses. You might get a real bargain on Ebay.

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No one has been convicted yet. The case was transferred to the Crown Court and is still in progress.

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As I said above, the prosecution is continuing. The case was forecast to take three weeks. Until there are convictions the persons charged are presumed to be innocent. That does not necessarily mean that they are innocent but our law gives them a presumption of innocence in order to enable a fair trial to take place. I would imagine the CPS are trying hard to get guilty verdicts.

I see that Maplin are advertising pre-owned drones, so maybe Martin is right about them being a fad. The fact that drones have serious uses will mean that there is likely to be a long-term demand for recreational use.

Four of the people charged have been acquitted and the fifth, a police officer who admitted misconduct in a public office, has been convicted and will be sentenced next week. Internal disciplinary action will be taken in respect of members of the South Yorkshire police force. This case involved helicopter surveillance, not a drone.

They have no place in Civilian life. Should only be available to the Military. We already have kids using their father’s drone when the parents go away. To walk thru your garden gate and have one of these things hovering in front of your face photographing you in the ‘privacy’ of your own back garden is a shock and very frightening.

Phil says:
31 July 2017

Drones are used to carry out aerial surveys by a wide range of people including building inspectors and archaeologists. One was used to examine the inside of a cathedral recently. They can get into places helicopters can’t and are much cheaper and safer. Drone footage features quite frequently on TV these days and even train spotters are using them.

They’re here to stay although legislation needs to catch on their misuse.

B Graham says:
1 August 2017

While I agree that there are many ways in which drones can be used for good purposes, I think that the number of owners/operators should be severely limited, due to the possible misuse of these devices. Their importation, sale, possession and use without, say, a Home Office licence should be illegal, as they are potentially as dangerous as firearms.
As ever, any legislation will only be as good and effective as the enforcement procedures.

I agree with Monos and B Graham that only people with a valid use for them should be allowed to own them and they should be licensed.

There are too many ways they can be misused but it will probably take a serious event before anything is done about them.

Too easy for burglars to check out a property, our neighbours have one and it is quite disconcerting to see it hovering in your back garden,

I thought there were CAA limits on how close to people and property it was permissible to fly them. Almost impossible to enforce officially so it will rely on complaints which people are loath to make for fear of some sort of reprisal.

I groaned aloud when I read the headline about Which? testing drones. These things should be banned, along with laser light pens; they are too much of a nuisance and a danger in the wrong hands – and that’s where some of them are already ending up. By testing these things you encourage people to buy them.

Phil says:
31 July 2017

You could say the same about cars; or kitchen knives or a wide range of things Which? claims to test.

What about legitimate uses of products, Alan? I used laser pointers for teaching for many years and managed not to point them at students. The problem is the sale of of lasers people who may use them irresponsibly, particularly high power versions.

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Let us know if you do find a way of nuking them Duncan. Neighbours spying on you isn’t nice.

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Thank you Duncan. πŸ™‚

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I hope so. Jammers powerful enough to interfere with the control of a drone could affect other electronic equipment nearby.

As a matter of interest, has a drone enthusiasts’ monthly magazine hit the news-stands yet? Or is RCME covering the field?

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Thank you, Duncan – The magazine publishing industry is never far behind a new trend. The website drones on “DRONE Magazine is a high-quality monthly publication which will appeal to drone enthusiasts of all levels – from beginners who need to know the basics, right through to experts who want to build their own. The magazine is dedicated to bringing the latest information about new drone technology to the consumer in a friendly and informative manner – covering everything from reviews of new products, to the future use of these incredible machines, as well as interviews with key figures in the industry.” “Drone” is the right term for these useless articles that make very little contribution to society.

At least we won’t have to worry about swarms of drones because swarms only involve workers.


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I don’t particularly object to drones but they seem to have only two purposes: (1) to take [and record] pictures that would otherwise be impossible, and (2) to convey things.

No. 1 must almost by definition involve the invasion of privacy unless it is done with the consent of the person[s] whose rights to privacy are infringed.

No. 2 must raise questions of legitimacy as there are no addresses on the mainland to which surface access is not available.

For those reasons I consider that only authorised and licensed persons or organisations should be permitted to deploy drones and that somehow they should log their routes, times, operator, etc.

Would that apply to any radio-controlled devices that might carry cameras, such as model planes and helicopters? How about people who generally take photos that may be seen to intrude on privacy (when I rode horses you got a good view into private property). I’m simply not sure where this stops. I would have thought it is the use you put any photos to that matters – published in print or online for example – where privacy laws should be applied.

I could not see any merit in having deliveries by drone. Can anyone explain why that should be other than a gimmick (quick delivery) and how we would tolerate incessant drone traffic dropping boxes all around. Emergency supplies might be justified – medical for example – but not normal purchases. Did the Amazon proposal come to anything more than this http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-38320067? https://www.recode.net/2016/12/14/13955818/amazon-drone-delivery-uk-us-faa-testing

I was not aware that model planes and helicopters were carrying cameras. I thought that hobby was more to do with engineering and control capability and normally takes place in public open spaces, not over people’s fences. I have no objection to drones being used in the same way as model aircraft, although I am not sure whether they can do aerobatics.

I agree it is what is done with the images captured that should be subject to privacy laws [which are virtually non-existent as it happens]. I think we should be entitled to enjoy our own private garden space without the intrusion of drones. As Alfa said, it is disconcerting to know that someone is directing an airborne camera in a way that would not be possible with a hand-held camera, or even with field glasses; psychologically there is a false pretence or charade that the drone’s manoeuvres are autonomous and not guided by a human, which somehow legitimises the intrusion. I would have thought flying a drone so close to people and property contravened the CAA Code of Practice.

Perhaps the novelty of playing with drones will wear off but I think there will always be certain types who get a peculiar pleasure from doing something slightly creepy. When I was a teenager it involved going round the back of bus garages and locomotive depots but all I could do was make notes and avoid a clipped ear.

The current breed of miniature and high definition wireless cameras are being fitted to all sorts of things these days, John, including model aircraft and model trains.

I know, Duncan, but model planes and trains are not likely to rise up over the garden hedge and start photographing me without a tie on as I sip my sarsaparilla.

When I went to the Abbeydale Picture House in Sheffield I used to frequent a temperance bar nearby and supped sarsaparilla. Loved it. Never seen it since, until we went to the Countryfile show at Blenheim Palace last year where a Lancashire exhibitor had bottles of concentrate for sale. Bought one and it was quite nice, but not the same as the draught version.

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Around ten years ago there was great concern about Google Street View and some very genuine concerns about its use, but – sadly in my view – most of us have come to accept it and I suspect that there might be opposition to any plan to withdraw the service.

Like John, I would like to see the use of drones licensed and recorded but the need should have been foreseen. Now the cat is out of the bag and at this stage it is going to be much more difficult to introduce effective control of the use of drones. I am certainly not opposed to the introduction of new technology and drones in the right hands are obviously very useful.

The Swiss rejected Streetview.

“The Swiss rejected Streetview.”

…and they’re all armed to the teeth, so they’ll be able to use intrusive drones for target practice.

That’s right, Derek. Penknives at dawn.

Well if it’s Swiss Army penknives, expect a:
Can Opener
Small Screwdriver
Large Blade
Small Blade
Bottle Opener
Large Screwdriver
Wire Stripper
Sewing Eye
Ballpoint Pen
Stainless Steel Pin
Mini Screwdriver

Maybe also a device to get Scouts out of horse’s hooves and something to get drones out of the sky.

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Thanks Duncan. I’ve been trying to work out how my garage roof came to be damaged recently. Maybe it has been hit by a drone, which seems more plausible than some of the other explanations I had come up with.

I have no hesitation in believing that Amazon would use delivery drones for upselling; this is fully in line with their existing marketing techniques.

I think if I noticed a drone encircling our house and filming it I would try to bring it down. Again, I feel that such action by Amazon would be a contravention of the CAA code of practice for drone flying. Amazon, of course, would plead that they had consent by virtue of their contract to deliver a parcel – but in my view that consent would not stretch to carrying out a surveillance exercise for a sales purpose.

The only thing that makes me dubious is that every drone has to be controlled from the operating base. Since the use of drones for deliveries is to save money on vans and drivers, would the company really want to tie up lots of staff controlling the drones and guiding them around your property looking for maintenance problems?

I think building surveyors could make good use of drones, though, to inspect roofs, chimney stacks, guttering and other hidden parts of buildings.

A hosepipe might do the trick, but as the drone probably records you, would you be in the wrong for destruction of someone else’s property, or the owner of the drone for invading someone else’s personal property?

A hosepipe is a very good idea – it’s always at the ready in the garden at this time of the year and we have very good water pressure.

I would plead self-defence and protection of our property from an alien invader. If I brought the drone down I would put it in the rubbish bin. The images, of course, would still be transmitted back to the control room and I would tough it out with Amazon. An Englishman’s home . . . and all that. I think there would be widespread support for a defiant stand.

John said The only thing that makes me dubious is that every drone has to be controlled from the operating base

Actually, Amazon’s plans are to use SatNav for precise targeting, so remote control wouldn’t be necessary. Not sure if it’ll ever take off in the UK, though, although it’s already happening elsewhere. Hard enough to get some delivery companies to leave a parcel around the back when we’re out.

Beats a previously mooted idea, which was to use Ballistic delivery. Parcels would have been launched in a large gun-like mechanism and then parachuted down for the final twenty feet or so.

How precise is SatNav? I expect we shall have to look for our books in the garden pond. With luck they’ll land on a lily pad.

πŸ™‚ Worrying, isn’t it?

Some people have to look in their recycling bin when goods are delivered by courier services.

We do now. Yodel (our most loathed carrier) once dropped a box set of DVDs at a friend’s farm, and left it in the barn. He only discovered it several weeks later, by which time Amazon had sent a replacement.

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One site suggests a best accuracy of 3 metres. However, like delivery drivers, it might well leave it with a neighbour, deliberately or otherwise, but presumably without the means of sticking a card through your letterbox.

What happens if you live in a multi-storey building and your windows are closed?

Maybe this is what N. Korea are really developing.

Love this: “delivering the latest nukes – within a foot-to your door”. Not sure a few feet will matter either way with a nuke πŸ™‚ I’d hope it would be at least gift wrapped.

Any drone approaching our front door will almost certainly infringe the CAA code of practice [which I believe is going to be made mandatory if it isn’t already]. In any case, the last place we want our delivery is within a foot of the front door where any passer-by could help themself. I shall withhold consent for delivery by drone.

We had a UPS delivery the other day; what a pleasure to see the job done properly, courteously and smartly [their tracking report could be more precise though and give a closer time frame than ‘late in the day’].

I think the notification of delivery will be via e-mail rather than old-fashioned postcards through the letter box with all the info on them at a glance – that is so Royal Mail!

Please can I borrow a drone? I want to put something on the chimney pot to stop the pigeons from dropping sunflower seeds, mealworms – or whatever is in the bird feeders – down the chimney. Some of them land on the hearth.

When we first moved to our current place the woodpigeons would attempt to build a nest in the chimney, and each day we returned home to a pile of sticks in the hearth.

It’s not a bad idea to have a cowl or bird guard on your chimney wavechange. A squirrel came down our chimney and luckily went straight out the open back door.

Intrusive little buggers, should be licensed as could be lethal in certain situations. If I ruled the world, I would ban them immediately until there are electronics available for the police to control them.

They are another cost on society which we don’t need in general public space.

GoPro have announced they have discontinued their Karma drone and will be removing themselves from the drone market. https://www.which.co.uk/news/2018/01/gopro-karma-drone-discontinued-action-cam-giant-to-leave-drone-market/